This work gives a comprehensive sketch of Russian activities in “Latin America.” The term is used here in its broadest sense, including not only the old colonies of this area but the entire Pacific Ocean. While Russia’s intrusions include, therefore, occasional visits of her scientists or traders to the older Spanish ports of this region, they comprise primarily the explorations of her adventurers in the North Pacific, her vigorous concentration on developing permanent and profitable colonies and trading centers in the Aleutian Islands and Alaska, and down the Pacific slope to Upper California, as well as persistent efforts to open trade with Canton, the most profitable center for the sale of the precious northern furs. There were also some feeble though ineffectual efforts at establishing relations with Hawaii.
The author begins by surveying the historical background of Russia in Latin America and then offers a section on sources consulted. He devotes the major portion of his work to Russian explorations in the North Pacific, development of the fur trade and relations with the natives of the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, and the surrounding areas, and the “push toward California and trade with Mexico,” so essential to obtaining food supplies for the undernourished, starving Alaskan establishments. Here we find accounts of Vitus Bering, Grigor Ivanovich Shelihkov, Nikolai Rezanov, Alexander Baranof, and the leaders of the Russian American Company, as well as of Spanish expeditions into the North Pacific, after Spanish diplomats had learned of or suspected Russia’s plans for capturing the North Pacific. Völkl treats the Spaniards’ reaction to this intrusion in some detail, their explorations to the northwest coast of America, the occupation of California, as far as San Francisco Bay, and fur hunting along the entire coast. This is clearly the heart of the book, occupying pp. 21-155. It is followed by an account of relations with all of Latin America, visits of diplomats, scientific missions such as those of A. J. von Krusenstern, Michael P. Lazarev, and Otto von Kotzebue, and various other expeditions, as for example that of Von Langsdorff. The Spanish colonies he mentions are the Philippines, China, Haiti, Argentina, Peru, and Mexico.
During the period preceding the Latin American movement for independence, there was a revival of Russian interest in the Latin American colonies, reciprocated in some measure. Francisco de Mirinda traveled widely in Europe, including Russia, before the outbreak of the revolution in Venezuela. The author treats of him and of other such adventurers until the time of the Holy Alliance, which changed everything. Thereafter Russia’s pretensions in Latin America were relinquished in favor of consolidating her territory as a continental power, extending from central Europe to Siberia and Kamchatka.
Völkl’s study is comprehensive and thorough. The notes are abundant, typographical errors few.